Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ecuador To Sell A Third Of Its Amazon Rainforest To Chinese Oil Companies



Ecuador is planning to auction off three million of the country's 8.1 million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies, Jonathan Kaiman of The Guardian reports.

The report comes as oil pollution forced neighboring Peru to declare an environmental state of emergency in its northern Amazon rainforest.

Ecuador owed China more than $7 billion — more than a tenth of its GDP — as of last summer.

In 2009 China began loaning Ecuador billions of dollars in exchange for oil shipments. It also helped fund two of the country's biggest hydroelectric infrastructure projects, and China National Petroleum Corp may soon have a 30 percent stake in a $10 billion oil refinery in Ecuador.

"My understanding is that this is more of a debt issue – it's because the Ecuadoreans are so dependent on the Chinese to finance their development that they're willing to compromise in other areas such as social and environmental regulations," Adam Zuckerman, environmental and human rights campaigner at California-based NGO Amazon Watch, told the Guardian.

The seven indigenous groups who live on the land are not happy, especially because last year a court ruled tha! t govern ments must obtain "free, prior, and informed consent" from native groups before approving oil activities on their indigenous land.

"They have not consulted us, and we're here to tell the big investors that they don't have our permission to exploit our land," Narcisa Mashienta, a leader of Ecuador's Shuar people, said in a report.

Dan Collyns of The Guardian reports that "indigenous people living in the Pastaza river basin near Peru's border with Ecuador have complained for decades about ... pollution," which has been caused by high levels of petroleum-related compounds in the area. The Argentinian company Pluspetrol has operated oil fields there since 2001.

SEE ALSO: Indigenous People In Ecuador Fend Off Oil Company With 'Arsenal Of 'Spears, Blowpipes, Machetes'

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Article: Tree-based solar cells point the way to recyclable energy sources

Solar cells made with recyclable, renewable substrates are starting to look interesting. Adam HeathNews has emerged of recyclable solar cells that almost literally grow on trees. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University have developed organic solar cells with subst...

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Where Farming Is Headed, We Don't Need Soil



The concept of vertical farm "skyscrapers" was first imagined a little over a decade ago by Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier.

Growing up — not out — Despommier contends, is one solution to the impending global food crisis and reducing energy consumption.

By 2050, the World Health Organization estimates that seven out of 10 people will live in a city, while global population is expected to hit 9 billion. The United Nations projects that to feed all those extra mouths would require farmers to produce 70 percent more food globally by 2050, compared to 2009 levels. Unfortunately, fields don't magically expand as the population gets bigger, and most of the world's available arable land is already being used. 

Climate change, contributing to floods and droughts, is likely to reduce the amount of cultivatable land even further in the future.  

Vertical farms, a space-saving technique that allows plants to be grown in stacked layers, one on top of the other, has been presented as a sustainable answer to the world's run on land and water resources. 

At least that's how Jolanta Hardej, the CEO of the nation's largest indoor vertical farm, FarmedHere, sees it. 

Vertical farms typically rely on hydroponics, the method of growing plants in nutrient-rich water instead of soil. FarmedHere, which celebrated its grand opening this week, uses something called aquaponics, which combines hydroponics with raising fish, or wha! t's know n as aquaculture.  

The seeds of basil, arugula, and other leafy greens are placed in small baskets made of coconut shavings, called coconut cores. The seeds germinate under artificial (compact-fluorescent) light. Once the plants are about two to three inches tall, they are transferred to a vertical grow system, made up of five to six stacked beds. Each basket is placed in a foam float so that the roots of the plants are submerged in the water.

FarmedHereThe water comes from four 800-gallon tanks containing around 800 tilapia. The water, rich with fish waste, is filtered and clarified before it's fed to the plants. The water then goes back to the fish tanks in a closed-loop system. This enables the facility to conserve 97 percent of fresh water per farm acre compared to regular agriculture, according to Hardej. (Once the fish are full-grown they are also sold at market).

Because the lights are never turned off, the growing process continues through the night. As a result, FarmedHere's produce has a much shorter growing cycle than traditional agriculture.

Leafy greens grow in 14 to 16 days, whereas traditionally farmed arugula takes 50 days, Hardej claims. Similarly, basil's growing cycle is 20 to 22 days compared to the 48- to 60-day growing cycle at a traditional farm.

"We have a 99 percent crop success, whereas traditional farming typically has 75 percent success," Hardej said. Per equivalent unit of land, "yields are 20 times bigger than yields of traditional agriculture." 

A greater output per acre of land is not the only obvious benefit of growing vegetables, fruits, and grains inside of tall buildings. A climate-controlled environment means farmers don't have to worry about weather hazards, like deep freezes or drought. Cr! ops don' t have be doused in herbicides and pesticides because insects aren't problem. And, because urban farms are inherently set up to reduce the distance between where food is grown and the consumers that buy and eat it, transportation costs and carbon footprint are markedly lower. 

Hardej, for example, tries not to sells her produce in supermarkets that are farther than 20 to 25 miles from the facility. 

The former mortgage broker expects to produce 300,000 pounds of leafy greens by the end of 2013 and 1 million pounds of leafy greens by the following year. All of this is being conducted in a 90,000 square-foot converted Chicago warehouse (which converts to 140,000 feet of farming space). The facility is only at 20 percent capacity right now, with around 25 full-time farmers, but it won't stay that way for long. 

Eventually, Hardej expects to plant roots in urban areas throughout the country, from Los Angeles to New York City.  

Still, vertical farming is long-off from replacing regular farming. Stan Cox, the author of "Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing," points out that vegetables (not counting potatoes since they can't grow in water) make up only 1.6 percent of our total cultivated land. 

If we were to convert all horizontal farming to vertical at equivalent yield per acre, we would need the floorspace of 105,000 Empire State Buildings. "And that would still leave more than 98 percent of our crop production still out in the fields," he notes.

SEE ALSO: THE FAST DIET: Get Thin Quick By Starving Yourself Two Days A Week

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Lockheed Martin Says This Desalination Technology Is An Industry Game-Changer


Pressure vessels

The latest technology for removing salt from seawater, developed by Lockheed Martin, will be a game-changer for the industry, according to Ray O. Johnson, senior vice president and chief technology officer of the jet and weapons manufacturer.

Desalination technology is used in regions of the world, particularly developing countries, where fresh water is not available. Water from oceans or rivers is diverted into treatment plants where the salt is removed and clean drinking water is produced through a process called reverse osmosis.

Imagine a tank with seawater on one side and pure water on the other, separated by a filter with billions of tiny holes. Lots of pressure on the salty side pushes water through faster than the salt, so fresh water comes out the other end.

The problem is that current filters use plastic polymers that require an immense of amount of energy (800 to 1,000 pounds per square inch of pressure) to push water through.

Lockeed has developed a special material that doesn't need as much energy to drag water through the filter.

grapheneThis special material is a film of a special structure of carbon, a honeycomb lattice called graphene. Because of its structure the sheet is dotted with holes that are one nanometer or less. These holes between carbon atoms trap the salt and other impurities.

Graphene researchers w! on the N obel Prize in Physics in 2010 for developing the wonder-material.

In addition, the film is super thin — just a single atom thick — so that the water simply "pops through the very very small holes that we make in the graphene and leaves the salt behind," John Stetson, the chief technologist at Lockheed for this initiative told Business Insider.

Lockheed anticipates that their filters will be able to provide clean drinking water "at a fraction of the cost of industry-standard reverse osmosis systems," their press release says. Water-poor regions of the world will be the first to benefit.

The perforated graphene is aptly called Perforene. Lockheed has the U.S. Patent on this technology and is currently pumping out "pretty big quantities of it" at Lockheed's advanced technology center in Palo Alto, California, according to Stetson.

The Perforene has a smoky grey color film that is translucent, even though its carbon, because it is so thin. It's also about 1,000 times stronger than steel, but still has a permeability that is about 100 times greater than the best competitive membrane out in the market, said Stetson.

Perforene isn't a game-changer, yet. Lockheed is still in prototype stage. One challenge is figuring out how to scale up production. Graphene is cheap but it's very delicate because of its thinness, also making it difficult to transfer.

Stetson says Lockheed is targeting to have a prototype to test in a reverse osmosis plant by 2014 or 2015, where they would simply be able to "plug in" the Peforene to replace the existing filter.

The great news is that this technology is not just limited to desalination plants. It can potentially be used for pharmaceutical filtration, dialysis, and gas separation, to a name a few.


The possibilities are endless.

SEE ALSO: Apollo-Era Rockets Pulled From The Bottom Of The Ocean

SEE ALSO: How Richard Branson Gets Fresh Water On His Private Island

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Solar and Wave Powered Robots Revolutionize Information Gathering On the Open Water


wave glider

Silicon Valley startup Liquid Robotics said today that it has raised $45 million in new funding to expand its fleet of autonomous solar-and-wave powered robots that are roaming the world’s oceans collecting data for oil companies, climate scientists and the US military.

The robots are called Wave Gliders, and the company, which has now raised a total of $85 million, is worth watching for how the confluence of robotics, big data, and cloud computing is reshaping deep ocean oil exploration and scientific research. As I wrote in Forbes in 2011:

While Wave Gliders haven’t achieved Skynet-like consciousness, they represent a revolution in robotics that promises to advance ocean exploration and exploitation, much as the Hubble Space Telescope opened the cosmos. Packed in their 7-by-2-foot titanium- framed fiberglass bodies are terabytes of cellphone flash storage, a dual-core ARM processor running open Linux software, a battery pack, sensor arrays, a GPS unit, and wireless and satellite communications systems. It’s all powered by two off-the-shelf solar panels that cover the top of the Glider.

But it is what’s unseen 23 feet below the ocean’s surface that makes the Wave Glider a perpetual motion green machine and that its investors are gambling will mint money from oil companies, scientists and the military. Tethered to the floating vehicle are six three and-a-half-foot “fins” attached to a rudder. As the fins tap the energy generated by the up-and-down motion of ocean waves, they move to propel the robot at s! peeds of up to 2 knots. No fuel—fossil or otherwise—required.

Last November, a Wave Glider called Papa Mau set a record when it completed a year-long, 10,000-mile journey from San Francisco to Australia, surviving sharks, tropical storms, and 25-foot-high waves.

That resiliency has won Liquid Robotics a roster of oil industry customers. It can cost an ExxonMobil or Chevron as much as $150,000 a day to outfit a deep-ocean vessel to monitor deep ocean wells and collect data on ocean condition in advance of drilling. A Wave Glider, on the other hand, costs $100,000 and can operate up to a year at sea, beaming data to the cloud. But most customers prefer to let Liquid Robotics operate and maintain the Wave Gliders and purchase yearly all-you-can-eat data plans for between $500,000 and $1 million.

No surprise, then, that one of the company’s first customers was BP and that oil industry services giant Schlumberger was an early investor. Last year, Schlumberger and Liquid Robotics formed a joint venture called Liquid Robotics Oil & Gas in Houston to provide Wave Gliders to Big Oil.

Liquid Robotics’ latest investor is Riverwood Capital, a private equity firm that led the $45 million round.

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UAE Opens Biggest Solar Power Station In The World


UAE Opens Biggest Solar Power Station In The WorldThe Shams Power Company opened their Shams 1 concentrated solar power station this week in Abu Dhabi. The station generates 100 MW and can power 20,000 homes while reducing CO2 emissions by 175,000 tons per year.

Not to be outdone, two companies in California proposed solar towers yesterday that will generate 500 MW and power about 200,000 homes. But the Shams 1 project still holds the biggest solar station title for now. The project took about two years and $600 million to build. Shams 1 has 258,048 parabolic mirrors that collect sunlight which hits heat-transfer fluid and then flows through tubes to a heat exchanger. This process creates steam, which powers turbines to generate electricity.

On the energy front, the United Arab Emirates is mostly known for oil and natural gas, but that doesn't mean they can't build the largest solar station in the world in two years. Look, if you have the desert space you might as well go big. [TreeHugger]


Monday, March 18, 2013

California Builds the World's Tallest Solar Collector


The US government holds vast tracks of public lands—more than a 654 million acres, in fact—for public use such as national parks as well as for military use like test ranges and proving grounds. But most of the time, much of that land is left to rot when it could be producing clean solar energy for our ever-increasing power needs.

To that end, President Obama signed the Solar Energy Zone initiative into law last October in an attempt to bring much of this fallow land under a single federal management entity and streamline the approval process for converting unused government real estate into utility-scale solar projects. Each Solar Zone is ranked based on its solar potential, environmental impact, and available transmission lines. So far, 17 such SEZs have been established throughout 285,000 acres of the American West in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Granted that's out of a potentially available 17 million acres but hey, it's a start at least. And, if fully built out, these 17 areas will generate 31,658 MW of solar energy—enough to power 7 million American homes.

California's largest SEZ, Riverside East, is spread over 147,910 acres of Southern California and has the potential to generate up to 16,434 MW alone. To do so, the BrightSource and Abengoa energy companies have teamed up to develop and operate the 500 MW Palen Solar Electric Generating System, the world's tallest concentrating solar power system, on 3,800 of those acres.

California Builds the World's Tallest Solar CollectorConcentrating solar systems work by reflecting and, well, concentrating, the sun's rays using a series of mirrors (or heliostats) onto a very small target area to heat a boiler, which produces steam to drive an electricity-generating turbine. What sets the Palen project apart from other solar concentrators is the height of each 250MW boiler—they're each 750 feet-tall. That's 240 feet taller than the current record holder, the 540-foot concentrator at Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Power Plant. This is done to increase the density of heliostats beneath them while reducing the total footprint of the system by as much as 33 percent. What's more, each heliostat is mounted on a pole rather than a concrete pad, which reduces upkeep costs, doesn't require the land be perfectly level before installation, and preserves more of the local flora. If that wasn't enough, the Palen system will utilize dry-cooling technology, which saves up to 50-percent of the water expended by liquid-cooled concentrators.

The necessary permits have already been filed for the project, construction is expected to begin by the end of this year, and enough electricity to power 200,000 California homes should be flowing by 2016.

[Cleantechnica - PR News Wire - New Energy World - BrightSource - NRCM - DOI]


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Making Salt Water Drinkable Just Got 99 Percent Easier


Making Salt Water Drinkable Just Got 99 Percent EasierAccess to steady supplies of clean water is getting more and more difficult in the developing world, especially as demand skyrockets. In response, many countries have turned to the sea for potable fluids but existing reverse osmosis plants rely on complicated processes that are expensive and energy-intensive to operate. Good thing, engineers at Lockheed Martin have just announced a newly-developed salt filter that could reduce desalinization energy costs by 99 percent.

The Reverse Osmosis process works on a simple principle: molecules within a liquid will flow across a semipermeable membrane from areas of higher concentration to lower until both sides reach an equilibrium. But that same membrane can act as a filter for large molecules and ions if outside pressure is applied to one side of the system. For desalinization, the process typically employs a sheet of thin-film composite (TFC) membrane which is made from an active thin-film layer of polyimide stacked on a porous layer of polysulfone. The problem with these membranes is that their thickness requires the presence of large amounts of pressure (and energy) to press water through them.

Lockheed Martin's Perforene, on the other hand, is made from single atom-thick sheets of graphene. Because the sheets are so thin, water flows through them far more easily than through a conventional TFC. Filters made through the Perforene process would incorporate filtering holes just 100 nm in diameter—large enough to let water molecules through but small enough to capture dissolved salts. It looks a bit like chicken wire when viewed under a microscope, John Stetson, the Lockheed engineer credited with its invention, told Reuters. But ounce for ounce, its 1000 times stronger than steel.

"It's 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger," Stetson explained to Reuters. "The energy that's required and the pressure that's required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less."

Lockheed is reportedly already ramping up production efforts for the filters—and trying to find a way to keep them from tearing—though there are no announced plans on when they'd hit the market. Tomorrow isn't soon enough. [Reuters via MetaFilter - Wikipedia - Image: Shutterstock/Lightspring]


Monday, March 11, 2013

Here's How NASA Is Testing A New Biofuel Made From Flowers


One way to deal with the high cost of jet fuel and its impact on the atmosphere is to use biofuels.

Dutch carrier KLM is now running flights between New York and Amsterdam using biofuel made from used cooking oil, and NASA is testing its own mix.

To see how a 50-50 blend of conventional JP-8 jet fuel and an alternative fuel made from parts of camelina flowers impacts engine performance and emissions into the atmosphere, NASA used it to fill up a DC-8 jet.

This photo was taken by a HU-25 Falcon, which flies behind the DC-8, outfitted with more than a dozen instruments to analyze the soot and gases the jet leaves behind.

NASA's DC-8 biofuel testing in flight

SEE ALSO: Bombardier Reveals A Passenger Jet To Challenge Airbus And Boeing

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Horrific Video Of The Thousands Of Pigs Found Floating In A Shanghai River


This weekend, over 900 dead pigs were found floating dead in a river near Shanghai, and nobody new the cause. (UPDATE: It's actually over 2000 pigs now)

The video is totally horrific. Like something out of a scifi-horror movie where a germ or virus begins killing the animals first.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

An Abandoned Stable-Turned-Villa That Lives Off the Land


An Abandoned Stable-Turned-Villa That Lives Off the LandJust look at this home on a hill in Cáceres, Spain. An abandoned stable that used to stand on the same site was slated for remodeling, but it was so dilapidated that architects just took the stones and started from scratch. What they created was something beautiful.

The place is too far from a city to be included in a power grid, so it's powered by solar energy in the summer and hydro in the winter. That works out pretty perfectly, since it's conveniently located between two fresh streams that flow all year.

Working alongside that natural feature, every lovely piece of the home serves a purpose. The infinity pool doubles as a holding tank for H2O for drinking, bathing, and irrigation. A giant terracotta eave and generous wooden shutters keep too much sun out during the warmer months, and trap the heat in when it's cold. It might be remote, but the designers made due with what they had available and made something incredible. [Architizer]
An Abandoned Stable-Turned-Villa That Lives Off the Land